The path to so-called “hard skills” is often clear: Get a degree or certification and you’re suddenly qualified with a new line on your CV. However, when it comes to soft skills there are less clear milestones, such as learning the ability to plan a long-term project, negotiating with clients or give a clear presentation – and these skills are often more important in your day-to-day work life than your hard skills.
Research by the Carnegie Foundation and Stanford Research Centre in 2017 found that 85% of job success comes from having well developed soft and people skills, and only 15% of job success comes from having technical skills. “Importantly, these kinds of skills can be learned and nurtured,” explains Lyndy van den Barselaar, managing director at ManpowerGroup South Africa. “As the lifespan of hard skills become shorter, the importance of soft skills continues to grow as the career landscape evolves.”
She notes the following strategies for nurturing your soft skills:
Start with specifics
Many New Year’s Resolutions fail because they are too ambiguous, such as the goal of “getting in shape”. What, specifically, do you want? At work, make a list of potential soft skills you need such as interpersonal communication, leadership and personal branding. Then drill down to make the goals specific. For example, focus on interpersonal skills in a specific way by providing written feedback for colleagues in project meetings.
Don’t do too much too soon
To go back to the New Year’s Resolution analogy, another pitfall is trying to do it all. Maybe you want to lose weight and travel more, two goals that may cancel each other out. The same is true of soft skills at work. For example, if your goal is to become a dynamic public speaker, you may want to wait on the next goal of providing better interpersonal feedback, which takes a different ability.
“Being able to use your time wisely and productively is essential to any job. This is also true for nurturing skills – set realistic, achievable goals and timeframes and you will be set up for success,” says van den Barselaar.
Make it measurable
Measuring a goal can take the form of both inputs and outputs. If your goal is to improve your leadership throughout your organisation, for example, you may make a goal of joining three volunteer committees. That’s an input metric. Then how do you know if you’re making progress through that action? That takes the next step, i.e. output metrics.
“By making your goals measurable, you’ll be able to map your progress to ensure you stay on track,” explains van den Barselaar.
Output metrics are often associated with 360s and performance reviews, which play a part in developing your soft skills. However, you can create your own output metrics by meeting with your manager and asking them to keep you accountable. For example, you may ask your manager to rate you on your leadership ability before and after you join three committees at work. Having this external measure at the end of a development cycle will help keep you motivated and accountable.
“Setting accountability means knowing when to take charge and working hard toward your goals. Not only will your manager or mentor be measuring your progress, but may even be able to assist you along the way,” says van den Barselaar.
Finally, go back to the beginning when you have finished this cycle – there is always more to learn. Skills in demand and your ability to develop these talents are crucial to advancement. “As the career landscape continues to evolve and each sector and industry goes through its own revolution, soft skills will become even more crucial for success,” she concludes.
Do you want to grow your soft skills? Find a soft skills training course here